Monday 16 December 2019

The Christmas Jesus #3: Subjects of a New King

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham... Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah...

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”’
Matthew 1:1, 17 and 2:1-5

It seems somehow appropriate to be writing this the day after the General Election – regardless of what we think about the outcome this time. My Christian friends who work in politics tell me it’s all too easy to say that ‘Christ is King’ as a kind of slogan – even as an excuse for lack of engagement with issues in society, a way of retreating into our Christian caves. Perhaps so. Of course, that doesn’t stop it being true: Christ is King.

In fact, the very first verse of the New Testament makes it clear he is ‘the Messiah the son of David’. And Jesus’ kingship is written large across the opening chapters of Matthew’s gospel.

For instance, Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy through the rise of the monarchy in king David, its loss in the exile, and its restoration in Jesus the Messiah. Matthew’s division of Jesus’ family tree into three groups of 14 may have prompted Jewish readers to think of the numerical value of the name ‘David’ in Hebrew, which is 14. Even the very arrangement of the genealogy emphasises Jesus’ kingship!

Matthew also reminds us of the contrast between Jesus, who has been ‘born king of the Jews’ (2:1), and Herod, who is currently installed as a puppet king of the Romans. Herod somehow senses that Jesus represents a rule that ultimately threatens his own. Indeed, as the Scriptures make clear, it’s the one born in Bethlehem who is the legitimate king, the one who would shepherd Israel.

And it becomes clear as the story progresses that this ‘son of David’ will not defeat his enemies with military might or political power. Nor will he rule over a particular geographical territory or ethnic group. This king will take away the sins of his people. His throne will be a cross. His kingdom will include people from all nations. His rule will embrace all things.

If anything, that all-embracing rule provides the biggest motivation of all not to withdraw now that the General Election is over. Precisely because Christ is King, whatever realm the Lord has placed us in – whatever family, street, job, career, course, or hobby – we can bear fruit in it, as we build relationships, seek justice, make a gracious stand for truth, and witness to the gospel. And we do so as subjects of the king, called to represent and reflect the beauty of his rule in all the earth.

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